BU Scholars Disagree on Whether US Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics Is the Best Way to Protest Human Rights Abuses
BU’s Joshua Shifrinson says yes, BU’s Joseph Fewsmith says no
Is the US Diplomatic Boycott of Beijing Olympics over Human Rights Abuses Wise?
BU’s Joshua Shifrinson says yes, BU’s Joseph Fewsmith says no
Chinese officials denounced “politicizing sports” after the United States announced on December 6 its diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics to protest China’s human rights abuses. US athletes will participate in the February games, but the country’s diplomats and officials won’t be there to cheer them on.
US leaders have condemned alleged internment and torture of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and China’s suppression of democracy protests in Hong Kong. New Zealand joined the American boycott and Australia and the UK are weighing skipping the games.
The boycott is less extreme than the 1980 US Olympics protest, which kept American athletes out of the Moscow games after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Chinese social media platform Weibo censored searches for “US diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics” this week. But Uyghur rights groups cheered the boycott. While China last year said the camps holding the Uyghurs were for “vocational education and training,” PBS’s Frontline, which filmed undercover inside Xinjiang, described “the largest mass incarceration of an ethnic group since the Holocaust.”
Will the boycott work or backfire? BU Today asked two Pardee School of Global Studies scholars: Joshua Shifrinson, an associate professor of international relations and an expert on diplomatic history and international security, and Joseph Fewsmith, a professor of international relations and political science, who regularly travels to China as an expert on its foreign policy and domestic politics.
with Joshua Shifrinson and Joseph Fewsmith
BU Today: Do you believe a boycott is warranted?
Shifrinson: Given China’s increasingly repressive policies at home and assertiveness abroad, a diplomatic boycott is a very reasonable approach. It splits the difference between boycotting the Olympics entirely—something the United States rarely does, and an act which would have broader and potentially negative repercussions on US-China relations, or calling for the cancellation of the event—and acting as if nothing is happening. It’s an appropriate and largely symbolic gesture, though one which may still invite Chinese retaliation.
Fewsmith: As I see it, Sino-US relations have deteriorated sharply in recent years. When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging, and I don’t see any sign that the United States or China is going to stop digging. A diplomatic boycott is a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing. It is not a policy. I see nothing wrong with, say, the ambassador—or chargé d’affaires, since ambassador-nominee R. Nicholas Burns has not yet been confirmed—representing the United States at the Olympics. Being provocative without adopting a clear-cut policy aim accomplishes nothing.
BU Today: China’s government is outraged over the boycott. Will the boycott have any practical effect on the government’s behavior, or cause it to dig in its heels on its human rights policies?
Shifrinson: There are two different issues here: will the boycott affect Chinese policy in general, and what might it do in retaliation? On the first, I suspect the boycott will have little effect on China’s overarching behavior. In the Chinese government’s perspective, its problematic civil liberties and human rights record services Chinese national security and priorities. A symbolic move by the United States is thus unlikely to affect China’s overall behavior one way or another. That said, I expect China to retaliate in a similarly symbolic way in the future by, for instance, imposing additional restrictions on US sports teams playing in the country.
Fewsmith: As my first response implied, I think a diplomatic boycott will simply make China even more difficult to deal with. Moreover, it reinforces the Chinese position that the United States is trying to “hold China down.”
BU Today: Should the United States consider a total boycott and not allow its athletes to compete in the Olympic Games?
Shifrinson: No, I do not think a total boycott is warranted. The point of the Olympics is to showcase individual athletic prowess. It’s supposed to be a venue with nationalism as pushed to the side as possible. Of course, it’s impossible to entirely exclude it. Nevertheless, the United States has participated in such Olympics as the 1936 Olympics, held in Germany, and the 2014 Sochi games. Pulling all participation would thus be a way of saying that the United States considers China more egregious than Nazi Germany—this may be the case, but it’d be a major and public move that the United States might have a hard time walking back, and [might] limit US options if the situation in China worsens. Pulling diplomatic representation while letting the games continue strikes me as in keeping with the spirit of the event and an option that leaves the United States maneuvering room for dealing with China going forward.
Fewsmith: I do not think a total boycott would accomplish anything. But in the wake of the Peng Shuai case, I could imagine some athletes boycotting or protesting in some fashion. [Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared for several weeks after accusing a former vice premier of China of sexual assault on November 2. China responded with photos and videos of Peng, but some tennis officials and human rights advocates haven’t been mollified.]
BU Today: Ultimately, is there any other policy that countries might pursue to materially help the Uyghurs and Hong Kong?
Shifrinson: Unfortunately, assisting the Uyghurs and Hong Kong is very difficult. Publicly denouncing China’s moves can even be counterproductive by feeding China’s narrative that foreign countries are trying to exploit any internal Chinese divisions, a claim that China uses to justify its repression. For now, the best that can be done is to continue raising the issue through dialogue and applying pressure on Beijing economically and diplomatically. Pursuing a more stable and cooperative relationship with Beijing might also help—after all, the United States actually made headway with the USSR in the USSR’s treatment of its internal Jewish dissidents by improving relations with Moscow, despite Moscow’s awful human rights record. It’s possible similar engagement with Beijing might, paradoxically, help today.
Fewsmith: Turkey and Muslim countries should protest the Uyghur situation in Xinjiang. The United States should continue to call attention to it and boycott the purchase of cotton from Xinjiang, but there is little we can do to materially help the Uyghurs. Much the same is true in Hong Kong, but the business environment there perhaps encourages some—but unfortunately little—restraint there.
It seems, in your narrative, you are assuming Xinjiang and Hongkong cases are simple human right problems. I don’t think we should assume such a controversial issue in an semi-official BU website. In some degree, I feel like this article is also trying to “brain wash” the young undergraduate students with this stereotype.(Appologize, I think that is obviously not the intension.)
There are reasons to have those so called “education camp” since there were terrorism in the region. The link below has a (not comprehansive) list of cases happened in Xinjiang. It is in Chinese, which I believe the authors should be able to read since this is a Chinese topic.
I would like to see a claim clearly at the beginning that the audience should get prepared so they get the full picture of this topic and what was assumed when the authors were writing this page.
I will anonymize this comment to be safe. Sorry in advance.
Can’t agree more. As a world-famous university, BU should absolutely watch its language before publishing articles like this on its official website. It is such a disappointment to see an inconsiderate article published and promoted to students in BU.
Make no mistake about it, genocide is occurring in the Xinjiang province of China…
People always talk about how the fate of the Jewish communities across Europe were not actually quite so unknown going into the war, but rather the world chose to turn a blind eye to the obvious atrocities
Those of you who are now acting as China apologists or choosing to turn away from this tragedy have blood on your hands. This diplomatic boycott is meager compared to the scale of the crime being perpetrated by the CCP
How can you come to terms with calling countering domestic terrorism as genocide? You clearly embody the uniformity of biased news resources without factoring in the variety of opinions from within Asia where this issue is painted under very different lights. I encourage you to do more research about this issue since you are such a passionate human rights activist I’m sure you may find abundant information opposed to what you are saying here from research databases other than Google or mainstream news outlets.
Have you ever been to Xinjiang before? Or you’re just sitting on couch and let Tucker Calrson or Anderson Cooper tell you how to think? Your ignorance have shown how agenda-setting works in the US and how the media indocrtine anti-China propoganda in the name of freedom of the press. Before making assumptions based on your biased view toward China, educate yourself first about the relations between Al-Qaeda and East Turkestan first. Think about these families who lost their loved one in Sepetember 11, and then you will understand why Chinese students are concerning about the stigmatization of anti-terrorism protocols in Xinjiang. Google May 2014 Ürümqi attack.
All in all, Prof. Fewsmith’s comments are easier to agree with than Prof.Schifrinson’s. Many around the world would agree that the US should clean up its own act before pontificating to others about human rights abuses. US citizens need to see Ava DuVernay’s extremely disturbing documentary “13th” (2018), centering on the systematic mass incarceration of black Americans since the Civil War. Race-centered forced labor has been baked into our entire system for the last century and a half. The outpouring of sympathy for China’s Muslim population on the part of so many politicians who were quite fine with Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric or with Lauren Boebert’s recent antics borders on the hilarious. The “Concerned Student’s” allusion to the Nazi Holocaust ultimately ends up trivializing that horrid event.
This article is extremely biased and makes terrible assumptions about China. My friends from Xinjiang says that there is no such thing as genocide in the area, so do many other locals. Allowing such a post is honestly disrespectful towards all the Chinese international students attending BU.
Before you make comments about China’s internal affairs I would recommend that the authors actually learn more about the situation from unbiased sources(aka not western sinophobic news outlets such as CNN/BBC etc). China’s policies in Xinjiang are SUPPORTED by muslim countries such as Turkey and other nations in the Middle East. They inspected the situation and thought it was appropriate. China is rising in the recent years and has become a threat to western imperialism imposed by the US and other white-ruled countries. Such anti-china rhetoric in recent news outlets are just biased propagandas with the intent to suppress the rise of Asian nations. We all know what happened to Japan when they started catching up to the US. China now has the power to challenge the US in international politics and this is a positive sign for everyone. The world’s leading forces requires a change, and China is a strong candidate.
As a Chinese student at BU, I am very disappointed that BU Today actually allowed such a sinophobic article to be published.
Totally agree, as a student from Chinese, I can’t believe as the world’s famous university, BU official allows articles like this to be published.
Is “genocide” seriously the matter at hand here, or is it just a tool of leverage? Let’s consider the general reception of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, a legitimate, well documented mass genocide clear as day. The media reception and public western reception has not been as active and outcried as this situation with China. What concrete actions has western powers done to Myanmar and it’s authorities? Barely anything. I think we need to recognise why this particular situation progressed from “cultural genocide”, to a description where a very important word was dropped to mean something far more unrealistic and debatable.
Also, without a doubt, western public opinion has been shaped to be more and more anti-China by the framing of media outlets. Look at the tone from the same platforms about US and China from 5 or more years ago and you’ll notice a very stark contrast.
It’s almost like certain means were acted on to justify something else entirely.
It’s really outrageous！As a world-class school, the official publication of this kind of news really disappoints Chinese students. Please verify the correct news before writing this report, thank you.
After reading this article, I am more than disappointed to see BU used such a biased passage to report on China. As a Chinese student and a COM major student, I see only prejudice for China. Where is the genocide come from? What are the harms China has done in Xinjiang? What is the truth of boycott Beijing? If simply boycott is not going to do, then what is the reason of still doing it?
Also, is the picture really appropriate? Even if there are arguments and disputations over Hongkong and China, I want to mention the fact that Hongkong HAS BEEN A PART OF CHINA OFFICIALLY SINCE JULY 1st of 1997. It is an undeniable fact. The U.S. just held the Summit of Democracy and invited the leader of Hongkong Independence. I am not judging if that is appropriate or not, I just want to make it clear that the leader of Hongkong Independence is a CRIMINAL in China because he is suspected of intentionally triggering hatred over the main land. Meanwhile, the U.S did not invite China and Russia to attend the meeting. If saying the U.S diplomacy is boycotting Beijing, is China also boycotting this summit? Also, inviting a criminal to the summit is not a delightful thing to do. In a large extent, this only cause even more disagreement between HongKong and Mainland.
I don’t know what is the purpose of this head picture since it got nothing to do with this article
Here is the data of the Muslim Population in Xinjiang. On June 14, the main data of the seventh national census of Xinjiang were released, which showed that the population of Xinjiang was 25,852,345 as of midnight on November 1, 2020, an increase of 4,039,011 people, or 18.52 percent, compared with that of the sixth general population in 2010. Among them, the Uygur population is 1,624,257, accounting for 44.96% of the total population and 77.85% of the minority population. The population of ethnic minorities increased by 14.27 percent compared with that of 2010, 4.01 percentage points higher than the national growth rate of 10.26 percent.
The truth is here but the people like you only ignore it. According to this data, the Uighur population has increased a lot. What is the so-called genocide? This is clearly malicious slander against China.
In BU, we need truth and love instread of fake news and malicious slander. I hope you can visit China in person so that you can really see what it looks like.
As a world-famous university, it is irresponsible to publish articles like this. Before someone comments on Chinese internal affairs, authors in the article are supposed to do enough research instead of using biased news and stories to support their unreasoning opinions.
I am frustrated about US politics and US foreign policies. Nowadays, the US uses human rights to “attack” other countries that do not abide by US’ rules. US politicians sophisticatedly use human rights to slander other countries.
Before criticizing other countries, what did the US do? Killing African Americans for no reason? Discriminating minorities from various perspectives? Or letting millions of homeless die in the cold weather? What did the US do? Nothing! The only thing that US politicians do is disgust other countries and ignore poor US citizens.
In my opinion, no matter how difficult it is, we should not kill innocent people. It is related to the Chinese authority problem, it should be solved by China. We could blame them, but we cannot help they make the decision, as you cannot ask other people to do what you like. Conversation is the best way to solve the problem. Today’s Chinese government is consisted like this has its own historical problem, which also depends on its local situation. It has its own good way, but it also has its own bad way. In Chinese historical mind, we do not have democracy for about 5000 years, democracy will not show up immediately. I do not want to say western culture is advanced, or eastern culture is outdated, but I would like to say power will poison one’s mind. Chinese government should actually slow down its step to do what really good for its people.
So Shifrinson’s logistic is, China = Nazi Germany?
I think the US should focus on restoring it own rule of law and curbing the two-year-long streak of human rights violations across the board. As the bible teaches, those who see speck in the eye on another person don’t notice a log sticking out of their own eye.
It’s so unfortunate to see the International Olympic Comittee’s (IOC) whimpering response to the human rights abuses in China. They recognize the scale of the tragedies but they say they believe the best way to stop the ongoing genocide is with carrying on business as usual in the hopes that China’s government will see the standard for the rest of the world and grow a conscience. However, it is pretty obvious that the main reason they continue to have the Olympics hosted in countries with such ambysmal human rights records is because of the money these countries are willing to put towards the games to try and offset the negative news of their abuses of human rights. The same thing is happening with the World Cup and other international sporting events. The IOC is willing to go along because they desperately need the money as it has become extremely expensive and altogether unprofitable to host the Olympic Games, so mostly only the countries that really need the positive press are deciding to host the games.
The IOC has proudly put forward for years the great change they were able to help bring to end apartheid in South Africa with their boycott of South Africa during the games. Unfortunately, they are unable to do so again in China and I really hope they recognize the hipocracy of their actions and statements.
The world said never again after the genocide in Europe during the 20th century, but it appears unless it is in their own backyard, those words appear empty.
US diplomats have no room to talk about human rights abuses in other countries while continuing to propagandize and pretend there are none here at home, and even further, the ones we perpetuate abroad.
In summary this report is disappointing. The tools US diplomats / ministry of foreign affairs are so few that most of the actions taken were / will be arguments. The US is still sending its athletes to the 2022 games no matter what and when the White House didn’t use the serious word “boycott”, BU is boldly using it as if the US truly will do something about the games.
But no, the athletes are still going, just not the politicians / officials usually present with Olympic games. This leaves people both wondering and disappointed. What happened to US foreign policies? Where are the strategies and tactics once used by Carter, Nickson, etc? Or Reagan at least? We are not asking you to be Kennan all over again. We simply ask for the return of common sense and expectable actions. At least just do better than Trump did. During his term we watched a powerful Kraken splattering and waiving its tentacles and getting literally nowhere.
However, pushing every button on the desk isn’t necessarily worse than Biden just pushing the few buttons on his desk. Is the plan just not being Trump? No, the plan should be to ameliorate China-US relations. Keeping pressing the same “Human Rights” accusation-button proved a thousand times not effective. Why? Because the US no longer can / is willing to do something to unite its allies (may be put a few checks on Federal gov’s budget deficit to begin with? so that US allies don’t have to suffer the extra flowing dollars at least?)
Call it weaponized dependency or the CCP a new Nazi Germany, or criticize it emphasizing on the “victim rhetoric”, whatever, global economy’s settings can be changed over night. With COVID killing more people, rising inflation, the US simply cannot stop cooperating with China and denying its imperial actions in Asia (including those done to the Phillipines, Japan, South Korea, and China) makes no sense. It is the classic “you need them more than they need you” situation and the sooner the academia admits this the better. Both China and the US won’t break down because of outside forces and the US seems to still bet on the miracle of creating a Gorbachev of China or drowning China with its media and propaganda?
In summary, fix your economy, fix COVID, stop global spread or otherwise the virus mutates faster than vaccine’s R&D. Fighting over whether to use the term boycott does not much good. But again, if the Biden administration could it would have done any of the above. Now we just watch this giant go down the spiral day by day. Great.